Liability for Omissions

The introduction to actus reus post looks at the general rule for actus reus in criminal law. These three video focus on the liability for omissions.



This first video looks at liability for omissions that arise out of the first 5 duties above (contractual, statutory, public office, voluntary assumption of duty and special relationships) as well as liability from the creation of dangerous situations.


This next video looks at liability for omissions arising out of status offences and continuing acts.

This last video sums up the main positions for and against liability for omissions.



  • Taking the social responsibility view, yes they should because there is an assumption that that criminal law is here regulate behaviour including acts and omissions.
  • The individual autonomy argument is weak because rarely does the criminal law seek to promote this look at seat belts for instance.
  • A level of social corporation and social responsibility is both good and necessary for realisation of individual autonomy. This view is endorsed by professor Ashworth who argue that ‘each member of society is valued intrinsically, and the value of one citizen’s life is generally greater than the value of another citizen’s temporary freedom.


  • Interference with the liberty of a person who wishes to mind his own business.
  • The defendant does nothing, the evil result would necessary occur in precisely the same way if tat that moment the alleged omission did not exist.
  • The aim of the law is to maximise individual autonomy.
  • Individual’s right to self determination is also at stake here.
  • Consequence of social responsibility view is it moves law to an intrusive stance making people ‘busy bodies’ as it is too onerous.
  • Impractical because it would require us to avert or alleviate large numbers of situations which we know about; how far will one go.
  • It is unfair unless citizens are aware of what can make them liable.
  • Therefore, to do it property legislation would have to be drafted. Legislature which much be phrased as precisely as possible, supported by a programme of education and information.
  • The present law is very balanced instead of having an ‘easy rescue’ law that many countries have where you punish where it would be easily to rescue someone, we have the duty of voluntarily assumed responsibility.
  • Causation – difficult to show how an omission can cause a particular result
  • The number of defendants that would be present – would this be sensible or responsible
  • The lack of MR